It’s tempting to imagine the island as a symbol of imperial ambitions, though the idea of Samuel, thwarted all the way by life, as an oppressor is also risible. If anything, An Island reveals the shifting sands of power and the persistence of inequality, even among the most wretched. Like her great literary forbearers—Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer and Coetzee—Jennings makes bold this ineradicable truth.Mint Lounge
The impact of emigration is a fractious topic for many, and Mulgrew’s finely developed, sometimes messy, characters have been deeply affected by life events, losses and prejudices. When the group of rugby-mad expats encroach on the dream of the local self-appointed Māori leader, Mulgrew deftly draws comparisons between two narratives of land ownership and dispossession.
With SA nineties culture as a backdrop, the novel reflects on what it takes to fit in. It is also a considerate portrayal of Maori culture and the challenges these First Nation people continue to face. This a beautifully written, carefully researched novel on a difficult subject.Business Day
Samuel’s final act is a culmination of this violence and, paradoxically, a desperate and self-destructive protest against the triumph of cruelty in the world.
An island is an ethically driven and formally accomplished novel. Those making decisions about texts to prescribe in the undergraduate curriculum might consider it. If Mark Behr’s The smell of apples was a university text of the 1990s, with its emphasis on the uncovering of apartheid-era secrets – a novel that was eminently teachable because it was ethically centred, with clear lines of development – the novel that might play a similar role for the 2020s could well be An island.LitNet
This year’s discovery, though, is Jennings (born 1982), who, in spite of having produced several excellent earlier books, has not been afforded the acclaim in South Africa that she deserves. The truth of the hoary adage that a prophet is rarely hallowed in her own land rings especially true, it would seem, of South Africans who write literary fiction in English.
Whether Jennings’ name appears on the shortlist that will be announced in London tomorrow afternoon or not, one can only hope that her longlisting will have changed the trajectory of her career: that she will never again have to make out a case to be published. And never again be published in print runs of only 500.LitNet
Karen Jennings’s taut, tenebrous novel describes what happens when Samuel, a septuagenarian lighthouse keeper and the sole inhabitant of a small island off the coast of an unnamed African country, acquires an uninvited houseguest.
An Island is the only small-press published novel on this year’s Booker prize longlist, and if its chances of making the final cut feel slender, its deft execution and the seriousness of its political engagement serve as a potent reminder of all that such titles add to the literary ecosystem. Those same qualities should also win it readers well beyond awards season.The Observer
James Leatt’s Conjectures: Living with questions (Karavan Press, 2021)
In this captivating and evocative new book, Conjectures, Professor James Leatt delivers a master class in how to think about and think through those perplexing questions that humans everywhere grapple with—questions of life and death, salvation and suffering, faith and doubt. Rich in literary references, the book is nevertheless accessible to a broad readership well beyond the landscapes of theology and philosophy that the author traverses with remarkable ease.
What makes this work particularly interesting is that Jim, as friends call him, teaches us about ‘living with questions’ (the sub-title of the book) through the biography of his rich and rewarding life, shared with us warts and all. The eldest child of a broken home (alcoholic parents), Jim finds the objects of his devotion in the Methodist Church and its sense of mission leads him to preaching in the backyards of my youthful upbringing (Retreat, on the Cape Flats) and ministering in the once promising community of Alice in the Eastern Cape before the apartheid government drained those small oases of non-racial living.
During his studies at Rhodes University, Jim begins to question the certainties of his faith as he engages some of the great thinkers of the 19th century on truth, knowledge, and human reason. It is his openness to challenging ideas and his courage in confronting unsettling questions that impress throughout the reading of this intriguing text. In the writing Jim gives us access to his head and his heart, and the slow but steady process of change that starts to transform his thinking about divine authority and the human condition.
Right in the middle of this contemplation, Jim shares insights into his roles as a leader of universities from Cape Town (UCT) to Durban (University of Natal) and eventually Thohoyandou (University of Venda) where, in the latter case, he led the successful transformation of a dysfunctional institution that is now regarded as one of the two or three historically black universities that have overcome the ideological and material deadweight of the apartheid burden.
Jim reassures the reader that he is not an atheist but one who has through his openness to ideas found his calling in ‘secular spirituality’ that values human connection, owns up to personal responsibility, lives compassionately, and revels in the ordinary. His “non-theism” inspired by Eastern thought, insists that we are on our own and that “there isn’t someone or something that is going to make things right for me …”
No doubt, the book will disturb those of us raised on foundational truths and the comforting certainties of fundamentalist faith. Fortunately, Jim does not set out to win over converts to his commitments but to invite readers into a world of conscious deliberation on vital questions about transcendent living that makes a difference in the lives of those around us. For that reason alone, Conjectures is highly recommended for these uncertain times where self-absorption, even mere survival, has displaced deep thinking about humanity, connectivity, and solidarity in an unjust world.
Jonathan D Jansen, Distinguished Professor of Education, Stellenbosch University
Also available on Kindle: Conjectures
“The thirty-six poems and prose passages that make up Symons’ new collection reveal the tender, sensitive and incisive vision of the writer.”
“Wide-ranging, Symons’ work is both delicate and weighty. Full of subtleties and surprises, it arrests and engages the reader.”
Rating: 5/5 🐨
Each of the stories spoke to me in a different way. Lester is a talented writer with great range.
I’ll give some responses to my favourite stories from the collection:
For Better or Wors: Listen. THIS WAS MY FAVOURITE STORY IN THE WHOLE COLLECTION. You clever, clever story writer Lester. Brilliant. I honestly want to say please can everyone start with this excellent story first before reading any other one in the collection?
Hairs and Graces: a story about the privileging of hair texture, and how falling in and out of love with one’s natural beauty.
In Skuins Street, Pisces Village, Hawston: a love story with a twist. This was executed beautifully and showed how lovers are linked.
The Epic is for Everyone: a story about how the real bad guy never gets caught and how it’s always the small fry that takes the heat in all things organised crime. This story really had me fuming, but it’s such an honest depiction of what happens in real life.
Homeful: It was a story of three homeless people tasked with taking a flash stick from an empty luxury home – but they stayed over for a few days instead of an in and out job. In the process, they look back on their past lives, and how they got to be in this current situation. It explored issues of colourism, relationship building and chosen families.
The Colours Are Too Bright: this story is about a strained relationship between a mother and son, and how a person relates to their parents once they have left home. It was an incredibly sad story, and so well written, with a gentle blow at the end that you don’t expect at all. I loved this especially because it makes you re-read the story and pick up the hints along the way that you may not have seen initially.
✨Overall this was an excellent collection and I can’t wait to read more of Lester’s work. Thank you to Karavan Press for this reviewer copy and to Lester, for sharing your art with the world.✨